Martin Keet is NAC Helicopter Training’s latest graduate, achieving not only his ambition to become a commercial helicopter pilot but a qualified instructor too. In his own words, Martin tells us about the highs and lows, as well as those who helped him along the way.
When I was four years old I took my first helicopter flight on a Kruger National Park EC120. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I knew from then I wanted, and needed, to become a pilot. Skip ahead fifteen years to 2015, I found myself in the town of Port Alfred at 43 Air School to begin my training on fixed wing aircraft. I learnt more than I could have imagined, not only about aviation but about myself too.
My time in Port Alfred was amazing; the flying intense but also a ton of fun. The people I met and befriended remain close to this day. I knew, though, that flying fixed wing wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel the excitement I had when I was in a helicopter and a fixed wing CPL turned into a PPL.
After finishing that PPL at 43, I came back home and started to look for a helicopter training school. My mother had told me she heard good things about NAC Helicopter Training at Rand and there we went. In early June 2015 I met my would-be instructors, Vicky Sankey and Franco van Straten. At first, I was terrified and nervous to be at a new school, starting all over, but after talking with Vicky and Franco I knew that this was the right choice.
On the 9th of June, with Franco by my side, we lifted off from the pad outside NAC at Rand into a beautiful blue sky. I was hooked, and loved every minute. I remember when he said for the first time, “You have control”. I took the cyclic and almost immediately started slowly diving to the ground... With a few corrections, I was flying straight and almost level. The most difficult part of the flight was when we got back to Rand. I wasn’t ready to land and just wanted to keep on flying all day long.
In the next few months I flew whenever I could, with whoever was available. More often than not, it was Vicky and I doing the training together. I struggled a lot on hovering. I needed a whole field to hover in but every time we flew, the field got smaller and smaller until I could hold my position. I was always nervous about failing to impress my instructors and I had high expectations for myself, but my biggest fear when learning to fly was not crashing or failing but messing up on the radio. I never really knew why because when the moment came when I had to squeeze that trigger for the radio, I was always confident and calm but apparently very ‘American-sounding’, which is strange because I come from Nelspruit.
On the 27th of July, I went solo and a few months later I passed my PPL flight test with Des Dumbleton. It wasn’t the best flight: on the first autorotation I unintentionally put the cyclic forward and the RPM just dropped. Des instinctively pulled aft cyclic and screamed, “What the hell are you doing!?” Luckily Des gives second chances and I nailed the second attempt. I was still disappointed when he only marked me three out of four, proudly saying, “Only Chuck Yeager gets a four”.
In the weeks to come I had the most fun flying with friends and family, building hours, slowly but surely. Skip ahead to the end of 2017: I decided to start an instructor’s rating. Little did I know how much work it would be until my first briefing with Franco and Vicky; being peppered with questions while I had no answers to defend myself. It was a really difficult time, wondering if this instructor’s rating was really worth it. I remember a helicopter crashing during this time, in a preventable accident and I thought maybe I could help prevent at least a few accidents in the future. It may sound cliché but I’ve always been very serious about safety.
One of my proudest moments was when flying with a good friend from 43 named Quinton. During the flight, I randomly said, “That field would be a good place for an Auto”. Once we landed he said that I was the safest pilot he knew because I was always ready for an emergency. I have always tried to be safe and that is why I got my instructor’s, to try and help others improve their safety and become the best pilots they can be. Finally, on 26 September 2018, I passed my CPL flight test and two weeks later my instructor’s flight test was done too.
This was all possible thanks to my mom and sister who made my dreams come true; my best friend, Christine, who helped me get through the work and pushed me every day to be better; and also each instructor who had a hand in making me the pilot I am today. Thank you. I finally feel ready to join the commercial air force. Where will it take me in the future, I do not know but I do know that nothing can stop me now!
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